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Zaleplon is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that’s prescribed on a short-term basis to manage and treat insomnia.

8 Minute Read | Published Oct 04 2023 | Updated Mar 07 2024 Expert Verified
Emma Collins
Written by
David Levin
Reviewed by
Emma Collins
Written by
David Levin
Reviewed by

Common Trade Names: Sonata, Starnoc, Andante

Belonging to the hypnotic class of drugs, Zaleplon is a sedative that is widely prescribed in the U.S. and in other parts of the world to treat or manage insomnia. While unrelated to benzodiazepines and barbiturates, the medication shares a similar mechanism of action with these substances. It binds with the GABA-A receptors and affects the body by slowing down activity in the brain, thus inducing sleep.

Why Do People Use Zaleplon?

Insomnia is a highly prevalent condition that affects hundreds of thousands of people in the United States every year. Because insomnia exposes patients to numerous adverse consequences, including increased risk of getting into accidents, increased risk of developing psychiatric and physical conditions, decreased productivity at work, and decreased overall quality of life, individuals turn to pharmacologic modalities like using zaleplon to deal with insomnia.

However, there are studies that propose that people misuse or abuse the zaleplon for the following reasons:

  • Desire to increase dose of the medication because of tolerance to the drug or experiencing withdrawal symptoms after stopping drug use.
  • Mixing the drug with other compounds in order to achieve desired effects, like better euphoria

Zaleplon is a Schedule IV controlled substance, meaning it has been deemed to have a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence. However, abuse of the drug can still lead to a number of medical, social, and professional issues.

How Is Zaleplon Abused?

Researchers believe that there is a gross underestimation of the prevalence of the misuse of “Z-drugs,” one of which is zaleplon. In particular, zaleplon has an ultra-short half-life of approximately 1 hour, and there are no specific laboratory tests that are recommended to determine its presence in the system. In part, this has made it difficult to identify the extent of the off-prescription and recreational use of the drug.

Zaleplon typically comes in the form of capsules that are taken orally. There have also been reported rare cases when the substance was inhaled (“snorted”) by the user.

Zaleplon Drug Interactions

Concurrently using zaleplon with other medications should only be done with the guidance of a medical professional. Mixing it with other drugs for self-medication or recreational purposes can lead to adverse effects.

The drug can interact with the following substances:

  • CNS-Active Drugs: Caution should be exercised when taking zaleplon alongside promethazine as their pharmacodynamics have not been evaluated.
  • Drugs That Induce CYP3A4: Co-administering a potent CYP3A4 enzyme inducer can lead to the ineffectiveness of zaleplon.
  • Drugs That Inhibit CYP3A4: Taking strong, selective CYP3A4-inihibitors like erythromycin and ketoconazole may increase a person’s exposure to zaleplon.
  • Drugs That Inhibit Aldehyde Oxidase: Co-administering diphenhydramine with zaleplon can lead to additive pharmacodynamic effects.
  • Drugs That Inhibit Both Aldehyde Oxidase and CYP3A4: Care should be exercised when taking zaleplon concurrently with cimetidine.

Zaleplon’s Side Effects

Taking zaleplon can lead to the following side effects:

  • Altered sense of smell
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Pain in the eyes
  • Headache
  • Diminished coordination
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Numbness, burning, or tingling sensation that is felt in the hands or feet
  • Pain when undergoing menstrual periods
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Problems with one’s vision

In cases where such side effects are severe or don’t go away, patients are recommended to coordinate with their physicians. Moreover, taking zaleplon can sometimes trigger adverse reactions in the body that may point to a serious event. People who are taking the medication should seek immediate medical attention in case they experience the following effects:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Rash
  • Swelling of one’s face, throat, tongue, lips, or eyes

Zaleplon’s Long-Term Effects

Zaleplon produces a variety of adverse effects ranging from mild to moderate and manifesting in different organ systems. The following are the most common effects associated with the long-term use of zaleplon:

Body as a Whole

  • Abdominal pain
  • Headache
  • Malaise
  • Photosensitivity
  • Weakness

Digestive System

  • Anorexia
  • Colitis
  • Nausea

Nervous System

  • Amnesia
  • Confusion
  • Decreased tactile sensitivity
  • Depersonalization
  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Hypertonia (too much muscle tone causing stiffness in one’s arms or legs)
  • Paresthesia (burning or prickling sensation)
  • Sleepiness
  • Tremors
  • Vertigo


  • Abnormal vision
  • Ear pain
  • Eye pain
  • Distorted sense of smell
  • Dysmenorrhea (severe menstrual cramps)
  • Hyperacusis (oversensitivity to a range of sounds)
  • Nose bleeds

Signs of Zaleplon Overdose

A person who has overdosed on zaleplon requires immediate medical attention. Among the symptoms of this condition are:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confused state of mind
  • Floppy muscles
  • Problems with coordination
  • Slowed breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Coma or loss of consciousness

Symptoms of Zaleplon Addiction

Experts agree that non-benzodiazepine hypnotics like zaleplon pose a lesser risk for addiction and dependence compared to benzodiazepines. However, frequent exposure to the substance can lead to changes in the sensitivity of GABA-A receptors, a factor that can cause the development of tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal symptoms.

People who take zaleplon, then, must be proactive in evaluating their use and relationship with the medication. In particular, they should be mindful of the signs and symptoms of substance use disorders listed in the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and use the list as a reference when reviewing their use of the drug.

  • Consuming larger amounts of zaleplon or using it for longer than intended
  • Inability to cut down on the use of zaleplon despite many attempts to do so
  • Spending a great deal of time getting zaleplon, using it, and recovering from its effects
  • Experiencing cravings or strong desire to use zaleplon
  • Recurrent use of zaleplon resulting in failure to fulfill personal, social, academic, or professional responsibilities
  • Continuing the use of the drug even though it causes relationship problems
  • Important personal, social, recreational, or occupational activities are given up due to zaleplon use
  • Recurrent zaleplon use even in situations where it is dangerous for oneself or others
  • Tolerance, or requiring higher doses of zaleplon to attain the desired effects of the drug
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon stopping use of zaleplon

A Schedule IV controlled substance, zaleplon poses a low potential for addiction and dependence. However, there have been recorded cases of patients who have developed a dependence on the substance and experienced withdrawal symptoms upon abruptly stopping its use.

It should be noted, however, that addiction and dependence are not one and the same condition. Addiction is a condition that is characterized by the compulsive need to use the drug even in the face of negative consequences, while dependence refers to the person’s inability to function normally without the drug because they have become used to taking it. It’s possible, then, to develop a dependence on a substance without being addicted to it.

Zaleplon Withdrawal Symptoms

A person who has developed a dependence on zaleplon may experience withdrawal symptoms upon ceasing use of the drug. These are some of the most common symptoms that a person may experience after using zaleplon at high doses for long periods and then stopping abruptly:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Delirium
  • Euphoria
  • Irritability
  • Hypertension
  • Inner restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Speech difficulties
  • Tonic-clonic seizures
  • Tremors

Zaleplon Detoxification

Detoxification is the process of eliminating the abused substance in the body, and it’s one of the first steps that you need to take in order to free yourself from zaleplon abuse. However, stopping the use of the drug abruptly can lead to the onset of withdrawal symptoms, which can not only be painful and uncomfortable, but also dangerous to your well-being.

Undergoing a supervised detoxification program can help you deal with the withdrawal symptoms in a safer and more comfortable manner. Under the program, you will be monitored by medical professionals who can provide you with symptomatic medications and other treatment strategies that will reduce the severity of your withdrawal symptoms.

The detoxification process may also involve slowly tapering off your intake of the drug until you can function normally without it. During the process, you may also be provided with nutritional supplements so that you can stay in the best of health until all traces of zaleplon have been eliminated from your system.

Getting Treatment for Zaleplon Addiction

People who abuse hypnotic drugs like zaleplon have a good chance of breaking away from their addiction problem if they are able to find the right help and support network. Signing up for an addiction treatment program is a solid step in ensuring that you are able to regain control of life.

When looking for such a program, you will likely be presented with the option to undergo either an inpatient or an outpatient treatment program. Here is a short summary of the benefits offered by each:

  • Inpatient treatment for zaleplon addiction: An inpatient treatment program will require you to live in a dedicated facility as you complete the program. During this time, you will stay in a controlled environment where your exposure to your triggers will be minimized. This program is often recommended for people with moderate to severe cases of substance use disorder.
  • Outpatient treatment for zaleplon addiction: An outpatient treatment program is recommended for individuals with a milder form of addiction. Such a program will allow you to stay at home, go to work or school, and carry out all your other day-to-day activities. However, you’ll also need to attend regular treatment sessions in a predetermined facility. If you have a strong support network at home or have demonstrated compliance to treatment protocols, this setup may be more appropriate for you.

In addition to abstinence from the drug, you will likely be required to undergo a number of behavioral therapies to treat your sedative-, hypnotic-, or anxiolytic- (SHA) use disorder. These include behavioral counseling sessions and therapies where stress management, relaxation, and coping mechanisms are discussed.

Find the Right Treatment Facility Today

You’re not alone in your journey to sobriety and independence from drug abuse. Our recovery support advisors at Better Addiction Care can help you find the right rehab facilities and treatment programs that match your needs and situation.

To get started, call (800) 429-7690. We can connect you with a rehabilitation facility near you. At the same time, our advisors can also guide you in the process of verifying your insurance or looking for other financing options if you don’t currently have insurance.

Origins and History of Zaleplon

Zaleplon was first introduced as a prescription-only medication and approved by the U.S. FDA for the short-term treatment of insomnia in 1999. It has been exclusively marketed by King Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Pfizer that is based in Tennessee, and has used the brand name Sonata since its development.

In the United States, zaleplon was placed under Schedule IV list of controlled substances the same year it was approved for the market. Currently, various manufacturers all over the world produce zaleplon generically.


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bullet Schifano, F. et al. (2019).
"An Insight into Z-Drug Abuse and Dependence: An Examination of Reports to the European Medicines Agency Database of Suspected Adverse Drug Reactions. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology."
Retrieved on July 07, 2021
bullet Bhandari P., Sapra A. (2021).
"Zaleplon. StatPearls."
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bullet U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020).
"Drugs of Abuse, a DEA Resource Guide (2020 Edition)."
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bullet Paparrigopoulos, T. et al. (2008).
"Intranasal Zaleplon Abuse. American Journal of Psychiatry."
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bullet U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2019).
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bullet U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Diversion Control Division. (1999).
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